Posts tagged Acropolis
Posts tagged Acropolis
It would be fair to assume Athens has experienced a lull in tourist numbers over the tumultuous past few weeks. Thousands of demonstrators, buildings in flames, clouds of tear gas and a generous dose of riot police amidst the recent chaos in Syntagma Sqaure have rather obviously left the city in a most unfavourable light and from the images of anger and uncertainty that have been dominating the peoples response to the Eurozone Crisis in Greece, I was fairly apprehensive about landing in the capital 3 weeks ago.
The sight we were greeted with leaving the airport bus was therefore surprising as we made our way through the calm city centre, the same one I’d seen swarming with rioters on the news only a day earlier. That is not to say they hadn’t left their mark: charcoaled patches and copious amounts of graffiti were immediately visible, but for the trouble I was expecting, it was clear we had been seeing the most concentrated and violent images of the unrest. Still weary, but relieved not to have landed in the centre of protests, it certainly left us slightly more relaxed about the weekend ahead.
With only a year left ahead of me in an Ancient History and Classical Archaeology degree, ancient Athenian art, politics and literature has obviously been one of the most crucial and influential areas of study and having now spent 4 days in the city, experiencing as much as possible (is there such a thing as archaeological site overload?), it was slightly unreal at first to feel the hugely increased significance of everything in its original context. Pages of pottery, statues, inscriptions, temples…suddenly became tangible objects in their country of origin. If there was ever a time to feel as though there was still plenty I didn’t yet know about Classical Greece, it was most definitely right then.
Commanding the attention of the extremely varied Athenian skyline, there was only one obvious place to begin an acquaintance with the Athens of the past, and following a night of pre-Lent celebrations (ouzo, grilled meat and some intense bouzouki playing) culture immersion was already under way, and I felt ready for my first visit the Acropolis. Whether it was the direct effect on tourism following the unpredictable scale of the protests, or perhaps just a fortunate choice of year, it felt as though we had the South slope of the Acropolis to ourselves to explore. Beginning at the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus (below), aside from ourselves there were also several reconstruction workers moving marble slabs around the audience stands. Only three years ago, Greek authorities agreed to fund a project costing six million euros to partially restore the theatre, due to be completed in 2015. Only a small section remains today but the theatre originally would have held around 15,000, and although the new capacity will be significantly lower, several tiers will be added with a combination of new stone and recovered ancient fragments.
We worked our way past the Stoa of Eumenes and the Asklepieion before arriving at the incredibly partially reconstructed and still employed Odeon of Herodes Atticus (below). Completed in 161 AD for the Athenian Herodes Atticus who dedicated it to his wife Aspasia Annia Regilla, the Odeon could have held some 5,000 spectators in antiquity and connected to the Eumenes Stoa, it was originally roofed, mostly hosting musical festivals. Burnt down in 267, the building was never reconstructed, and by the fourteenth century it was apparently buried so deeply that an Italian traveller identified it as a bridge. Restored in 1953, public concerts, opera and theatre take place throughout the year on the chequered floors and new marble seats. Bizarrely, it was also host to the Miss Universe 1973 contest.
Moving upwards and towards the Western modern entrance through the Propylaea, which although surviving for a longer period of time than its counterparts on the Acropolis, endured the most damage in 1656 by an explosion of a powder magazine, and since then has only partially been reconstructed. From here though I was granted my first full view across the Agora and out towards the coastline, and was immediately struck by the size of the city. With a current population of around 4 million, apartment blocks and huge buildings are spread across the entire plain and begin creeping up the bases of the surrounding mountains. Even centuries before the Parthenon construction period, it was difficult to grasp just how inescapable and attention grabbing this mound must have been on the landscape. With coastline visible to the East and West, what was clear to understand however, was the sense of patriotism so visible in artistic representations, that Athenians must have felt looking out onto this vast valley of land from coast to coast.
Rather than individually summarise each area of the top of the Acropolis (so this post does not run on for pages!), I’ll save that for a separate log entry. So a brief visit in photos…
Entering through the Propylon
The caryatids looking Westward
The sacred olive tree serving as a reminder the the victorious gift from Athena in the contest for patron of the city.
The North side of the Parthenon
The remains of the East pediment of the Parthenon
Looking South East towards the temple of Olympian Zeus
Viewing the colossus remains of the temple of Olympian Zeus from the summit of the Acropolis, we set off the following afternoon to explore these incredible ruins now engulfed by the modern city. Begun in the sixth century BC, the temple was not completed for over 600 years, and yet upon completion in the Roman occupation, it was still considered the largest temple in Greece. Finished in the reign of Hadrian, his arch (below) stands on the periphery of the temple grounds and it has been proposed that it’s purpose was to commemorate and honour Hadrian’s contributions to the city including the dedication of the close temple (it is thought that next to the cult statue of Zeus, also stood a huge cult statue of Hadrian). However another suggestion points to the arch signifying the boundaries of “old” and “new” Athens, with two inscriptions on both sides; one reading “this is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, and on the other side “this is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus.” Or as scholar Alison Adams suggests, perhaps rather than dividing the city into two, is was a representation of a re-founding of the entire city?
To condense this entire trip, although just an extended weekend, into a single tumblr post has already proven an impossible task. The acropolis itself contains such a significant and rich history that even only a fraction can be conveyed in the new Acropolis museum (…that need not be reference to Lord Elgin).
Within the context of current situation in Athens and the general feeling of the locals we had the opportunity to speak with, the preservation and maintenance of these sites is more than ever vitally important. It may have to been to our advantage that we were able to explore many of the huge attractions without the queues and business to be expected, but for the city, and in fact the entire country’s sake, the reliance upon tourist income has never been so essential. And I will most definitely be returning to contribute further…
Whilst researching for an essay about Erechtheus and the mythology surrounding the Erechtheion, I have been dealing with the very roots of Athenian legendary history. In the most basic form, it is still a rather fantastical tale, beginning with the half-man half-serpent Cecrops, the mythical first King of Athens from whom the ancient citizens claimed descent (Although Pausanias attributes the first kingship of all Attica to Actaeus, I’ll use Apollodorus’ account citing Cecrops as the original ruler for this purpose). Born of the earth, as was typical of the mythical first kings, he was a witness to the contest of Athena and Poseidon over patronage of the city and ultimately deemed Athena’s gift of the olive tree as superior.
In the slightly darker interpretation of the story as explained in The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Greece and Rome: “The contest manifests the value that gods place upon the people. The women, who hold a one-person majority, vote for Athena, and the men vote for Poseidon. Athena’s victory confers upon Cecropians her name for them and the protections of Zeus’ daughter. To appease the wrathful Poseidon, Cecrops deprives the women of suffrage, matriliny, and citizenship, thus establishing the patriarchal dominance of the male.”
As the story continues in a similarly unsettling manner, during Cecrops reign his half-serpent ancestor Erichthonios was born from the semen of Hephaestus, after Athena wiped it to the ground from her leg after his attempt to violate her. Athena took it upon herself to raise Erichthonios and he is thought to have established the annual Panathenaic festival.
A typically feelgood Greek myth then, but story aside I was interested in representations of a king who was half-snake (or in some instances, a dragon), half-man and how the technicalities of his image worked. So here a few old and new depictions of this king so core to Athenian legacy of which I hope to find more of when I fly to Athens in two weeks…
(For all ancient references to his myth in literature, this site surely covers them all http://www.theoi.com/Heros/Kekrops.html)